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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Would You Hire a Lawyer to Fix Your Flatscreen?

I've been thinking a lot lately about the way education policy is handed down from "on high," and it seems to me that it's a very bass-ackwards sort of process. In a common-sense universe, those who experienced the problems first-hand and were most familiar with the specific issues involved would be those who designed the solution. Educators would collaborate at their various schools, compile a list of the problems that affect achievement and proposed solutions. This data would be tabulated, boiling it down to the most commonly reported items. These items would shape policy decisions, which would be made by a committee of current educators, those still teaching in schools with the lowest academic performance and who would thus be most motivated to find real solutions.

Instead, we have politicians making scapegoats of the very people they should be looking to for solutions. People with no pedagogical training or experience whatsoever suppose that they know enough about the process of education to be able to legislate success, realism and relevance be damned. The socioeconomic factors affecting educational outcomes are ignored in favor of the assumption that only if the teachers worked harder all students would succeed. Such policies demonstrate an appalling ignorance in two primary ways.

First, the assumption is made that teachers are not already working extremely hard and doing their best to reach all students. Such an assumption is highly illogical given that failing to reach students results in class disruption and an incredible amount of stress on the part of the teacher. All teachers want all of their students to succeed. All teachers put forth a serious effort to reach students and help all of them to be competent at whatever skills are being taught. There is no teacher who comes to school thinking, "I hope (fill in a name) behaves like a fool and fails this week's test." The idea that a lack of effort on the part of teachers is to blame is simply farsical.

The other problem with punishing the teachers is that such policies ignore the students' part in their own learning. No carrot or stick is used to entice students to learn. One might object to such a tactic given that the desire to learn should be intrinsic, but if such were the case no education reforms would be necessary. Intrinsic learners are already succeeding. In a school in which half of the school is failing state tests, the other half tends to be composed of intrinsic learners or those whose parents enforce high standards in the home. Consequences need to be attached to demonstrating proficiency. These consequences need not be punitive, but they must be personally important to students. In years gone by, unproductive or lower-achieiving students were "held back," meaning that they repeated the entire grade if they failed to meet all criteria for promotion. Since then, studies have indicated that this isn't very effective, and the practice of full-grade retention has been largely discontinued. However, the practice which succeeded it, social promotion, has had disastrous effects on students' sense of personal accountability in school. Many high schools are using a more balanced approach, with end-of-unit tests being given in each subject which students must pass in order to advance to the next level. Such a system should be universal in all grades.

Those inexperienced and untrained in the field of education are simply ignorant of the issues involved and the dynamics of implementing policy in a real-life classroom. Those who have been out of the classroom for five years or more should be excluded from making policy recommendations. Only today's teachers working with today's students are qualified to tackle today's problems. The fact that no reform or evaluation system lasts for more than a few years is evidence of the foolishness of having politicians formulate policy for educators.

I would challenge any politician who believes he or she knows what is needed to make schools achieve to anonymously substitute in an underperforming school for two weeks during congressional recess. Do all of the planning, grading, disciplining, motivating, and intervention required of a teacher. Deal with the clientele whose problems you suppose yourself able to solve through legislation. Practice, if only for ten full days of school, what you preach. Then use what you have learned to formulate some policies (with the help of practicing teachers) that actually make sense.

Monday, February 13, 2012

About Internet Quotes

I saw this on a Yahoo comment and thought it was good enough to share here:

"The problem with quotes on the internet, is you don't know if they are true" -Abraham Lincoln

This comes from "Reboot," whoever that is. Still, I though I should credit him/her, even if the line is not original. It's the first time I've seen it.

Remember that most of the media are getting their information from websites these days when you read hit-pieces on various Republican figures, or on anyone else for that matter. It's very easy to create a false story and then have it promulgated through the internet as matter-of-fact. My next post may be a fabricated story about a media figure just to prove my point. If it is (I haven't decided all the way yet), I hope that whichever figure I spoof doesn't sue me for libel. I'll have to note somewhere in the article that it's not a serious story.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Education Isn't a Right

Listening to the diatribes of many in both the political community and the educational leadership community, one often hears the mantra: "Every child has the right to a quality education." That sounds wonderful, but reflects a great deal of ignorance about both the concept of rights and the realities of education. Education is not a right, nor could it possibly be so.

Rights are liberties endowed by our Creator (God as most believe) that would exist in a state of nature. They are sometimes referred to as the Natural Rights of Man. They include any liberty which would exist without interference from any outside force or agency. For example, freedom of speech fits because it is a right that would be enjoyed if there was no one there to infringe upon it. Freedom of religion fits as well. The freedom to pursue one's own material interests, to associate with those whom he chooses, and to labor or not labor depending on his own free will are essential rights every human being would enjoy in a state of nature.

We have dangerously expanded the concept of rights by including in the definition rights granted by a state rather than simply respected by it. Once we establish that rights are granted by government rather than preserved by it, we enable government to remove those rights at will. Education is a prime example of this. We have the right to pursue knowledge and education; that is a Natural Right of freedom of conscience. However we cannot, by definition, have the right to simply have an education. Education is not something that can magically be bestowed upon any individual. It is a process that requires effort (both mental and physical), self-discipline, and the willingness to be taught. It would be more correct to argue that education is a duty each person owes to himself. Americans are fortunate to live in a nation in which so much effort is expended to enable people to fulfill that duty.

Children cannot be forced to learn. This was once considered common-sense enough to go without saying. Schoolteachers were responsible for maintaining discipline (and were given a wide array of options for doing so), and they were required to instruct. However, a child who resisted the teacher's efforts was considered to be at fault himself. Parents held their own children fully accountable for their behavior and educational outcomes, and treated teachers with deference and respect. Sadly, the perspective of most people is quite the opposite in this day and age.

In modern educational literature, teachers are given 100% responsibility for the educational outcome of every student. When a school is loaded with antisocial criminals, the building is labeled a "failing school," as if it is the place itself or those who fight to instill knowledge in the unwilling that are at fault. It is no surprise that low-scoring schools are populated with children from high-crime areas. The mistake the public makes is to reverse the causality; it is not a poor education that leads to crime, but crime and the behaviors it engenders which lead to poor educational outcomes.

America needs to admit to itself that education is not a gift that can simply be handed out to someone. It is not like a welfare check or a packet of food stamps which can be doled out passively. It requires work, hard work, on the part of those who would receive it. It is not a gift others can give, or a right society can endow. It is an achievement made by those individuals willing to perform the required effort. When the public finally admits this to itself, perhaps remedies for the problems plaguing the U.S. education system will be possible. Until then, America is stuck in a paradigm which leads to more and more bad ideas based upon a false premise.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Why Hannity Gets It And Rush Doesn't

Lately, Rush Limbaugh has been falling into the trap he himself has criticized ad nauseum over every election cycle since I began listening at the age of eighteen. Rush has always criticized the Republican nominees for engaging in a "circular firing squad." Yet, he has been relentlessly critical of Romney (for no discernible policy reason) to the point of now supplying sound bites for liberals to use in hit pieces.

I'm having a difficult time comprehending why this is. I understand that Rush is fond of Gingrich,
whom he probably (and perhaps correctly) credits for keeping spending down during the 1990s. However, Gingrich is well known to be a major flip-flopper. Following Gingrich's policy positions over any given period longer than three years is like engaging in a wild goose chase. He also has the habit of taking mainstream science and making it sound like science fiction when using it as the basis for policy proposals. (We need a moon base. I can hear "Rocketman" being played in the background of a Democrat ad somewhere.)

Sean Hannity, however, gets it. He won't endorse a candidate for the simple reason that he doesn't want to destroy the illusion of a united front once a nominee has been selected. Rush seems to have forgotten that point. I don't know from whence comes Rush's distaste for Romney, especially since he recently stated that he had heard Romney say in a private forum that he intends to be a one term president because of the sharp reversal of course he will take from the direction Obama has been taking the country. Rush seemed to believe he was sincere, which, if true, would qualify Romney as a solid and serious conservative. Except for fiscal policy (and even then with some notable exceptions), I just can't fit that label to Newt Gingrich.

Romney has flipped--from moderate to solidly conservative--but he has never flopped. Gingrich is all over the place. Rush knows this, but is choosing to ignore it. Hannity refrains from engaging in overt criticism of any of the candidates, and allows them to voice their opinions in their own words on his show. Lately, I am extremely frustrated with Rush. His was the voice that first interested me in politics, and the voice that inspired my embrace of conservatism. However, that voice is beginning to grate on my nerves.

Rush is actively arming the Left for the war ahead. I'm sure if Mitt Romney becomes the eventual nominee he will reverse course and become Romney's most fervent defender. However, the damage will be done. The liberals have the sound bites. Rush could learn a thing or two from his former fill-in host.

There is another aspect of all of this Rush is forgetting, and it is something he has repeated quite often over the years. During the Republican primaries, the "drive-by" (left-wing) media concentrate their fire on the candidate they see as most dangerous in the general election. That fire has been leveled at Romney for quite some time. The leftists don't fear Gingrich. I'm quite sure they have a plan of attack ready for Newt that they are sure will be effective. Were they so sure of success against Romney, they would be easier on him and harder on Gingrich. It's simple logic, something I learned straight from Rush's Golden EIB Microphone, and something he seems to have forgotten this go-round.

Me, I'm glad that primary voters have, thus far, tended to be independent thinkers who vote based on the policies they know a candidate favors and the character of the man for whom they vote. This favors Mitt Romney, and as anyone who has read this blog before (all four of you) know, I've long been a Mitt supporter. He's the first Mormon candidate for whom I have voted in a presidential contest. I would not vote for Huntsman, and I voted for Keyes instead of Hatch back in 1996. Romney is a different animal. He has the expertise to fix this country and its economy. Even those who the Left would paint as blindly anti-Mormon (Evangelicals, Baptists, etc.) understand this and are voting accordingly. I'm hoping that Florida and (most probably) Nevada will make that obvious to all observers.

As for Rush, I don't know what he's thinking lately. He isn't following his own maxims very consistently, that's for sure. Unless he's pulling another "I endorse Clinton" gag and nobody has gotten it yet, I'm worried about the guy. He's an idol of mine. I'd hate to see a cognitive decline in such a great voice for conservatism.